Sunday, February 28, 2010

Have Comic-Con, Will Travel?

There's been a bunch of press recently about what they used to call the San Diego Comic-Con, but now call Comic-Con International:San Diego, talking to other cities, such as Anaheim and Las Vegas, about moving there, because the SD convention center has maxed out its room.

Mark Evanier, who has been to every Comic-Con over the past four decades, doesn't think the con is going anywhere. ( And I agree. Comic-Con has been very good to San Diego; taxes from its attendees have helped redevelop the city's downtown, which is light years better than the bordertown cesspool it was when I and my family went to my first Comic-Con 30 years ago. San Diego isn't going to let the con go without a fight.

The more likely result is that the con will spread out in town itself. When I went there in 1980, the con events were distributed between the (much smaller) old convention center and the surrounding hotels. The con is heading back in that direction, especially with the new hotel that sits next to Hall H. That will probably require more shuttle buses, and won't do much for downtown traffic. But people like San Diego, which is gorgeous in the summer; and they like the Convention Center, which sits right on the bay and has spectacular views for those who pull their heads out of the dealer's room once in a while. I think the con's going to stay there for some time.

Clooney in the Middle

Having watched THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX last night, I'm now in a position to compare George Clooney's two performances in Fall 2009 movies -- as an executive executioner in UP IN THE AIR, and as a stop-motion-animated fox in TFMF. In both roles, he portrays a man (or male fox) dealing with encroaching middle age. [Spoiler Warnings]

In both movies, Clooney's character attains a relatively comfortable, safe position; and yet chooses to move out of it. Fox is motivated by addition to adrenaline and his own self-infatuation to engage in the same self-endangering (and ultimately family- and neighbor-endangering) behavior that he swore to his wife he'd give up. Ryan Bingham is motivated by a realization of how hollow his hermetically-sealed, commitment-free lifestyle ultimately is. In both movies, Clooney's character endures much pain, and achieves a new equilibrium at the end. The ending of TFMF is much more optimistic than that of UP IN THE AIR -- perhaps because TFMF is an animated movies that might conceivably be shown to kids (although try explaining to them the rat's taunts to Fox about Fox's wife's past), or because of the philosophy of the storytellers.

And both films are ultimately so focused on their main characters that the central drama becomes one man/fox solving his own problems. Is this solipsistic approach to analyzing the angst of men of a certain age the end product of the generation of self-absorption? Or is it simply because Clooney is so magnetic a movie presence that every other conflict in the story is sublimated to his own personal crises?

None of this came up when he was playing Batman.

Friday, February 26, 2010

He Sings the God Engines Electric

Yet another use for ebooks. SF writer John Scalzi wants his new novella, "The God Engines," to be considered by those who are nominating works for the Hugo Award. "The God Engines" is not yet available in official ebook format. Nominators in other countries are having trouble getting physical copies of TGE. Scalzi's solution, described in his blog ( He is emailing an earlier pdf draft of his book to folks who (a) establish their bona fides as nominators and (b) pledge to nominate something (not necessarily TGE). That's using technology. And that's what science fiction is all about.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Down in the Desert

Every year, Amy and I journey to the desert for a weekend to visit Dad and his wife Regina in Rancho Mirage. This year, we planned our visit to coincide with my Uncle Arny and Aunt Carol's stay there, as well as my brother Mike and his wife Debra's visit. What I didn't anticipate was that on the same visit we would see my cousin Cherie and her husband Kevin; Debra's mother, grandmother, sister, and nephews; or family friends the Epsteins. Talk about maximizing quality family time.

A Suitable Photo

My dad posts a photo of himself and a friend from 60 years ago. ( Shows you three things. One, it's amazing that a man can use the technology of 2010 to publish documentation of what happened in 1950. Two, it's amazing that Dad still hangs out with the same friend. Three, it's amazing how little men's suits have changed since then.

Praise for Robinson -- Sorta

Today's L.A. Times Arts & Entertainment section has a nice profile of SF Kim Stanley Robinson. (,0,1103862,full.story)

Nice, that is, except for the obligatory slam at the genre:

"Elegant, charming, funny and profound," summarized a reviewer for the Guardian of London, marking Robinson as the rare sci-fi writer whose polished prose and intellectual heft equals his inventive plotting.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kaluta Magic

While I haven't been following the Vertigo comics series MADAME XANADU, featuring the former DC horror comic hostess, I had to pick up the second trade paperback collection of her adventures, EXODUC NOIR (, when I discovered that Xanadu's designer, Michael Kaluta, drew both the covers and the interiors.
Kaluta was one of a school of artists in early-'70's comics who combined the influences of 19th and early 20th century romanticist illustrators with the storytelling conventions of comics. It was a work-intensive process, and Kaluta, like most of his contemporaries, has drawn comics only sporadically over the last 35 years. His detailed, laborious style lends itself more to covers and prints than the grind of interior comics illustration.
But he drew these issues, and did so as well as or better than any work in his career. The story, by Matt Wagner, plays to his strengths -- shifting back and forth between the beauty and horror of 15th-century Spain, in the midst of the Inquisition, and 1940 Manhattan. The latter allows Kaluta to return to the streamlined autos, snappy suits, and atmospheric Depression-era alleys he drew so well in the 1970's SHADOW comic.
It's rare to read a comic these days where every page impresses, where each panel shows thought and intelligence in its design. It's even rarer that the magic does not stem from computer special effects, but only from pens and brushes and ink. I recommend this one.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Skinny on the L.A. Times

I didn't intend to post two items in a row criticizing the Los Angeles Times, but . . . .

This past week, the Times's publishers apparently decided the paper had to get leaner and meaner to survive the drain that urban newspapers seem to be circling.

It got leaner -- literally -- by reducing its width by an inch. (As my wife commented, it now looks like a newspaper that's given away at a supermarket.)

And it got meaner by shrinking its already minisculely-printed comic strips; and plastering a huge banner ad in the middle of one of the comics pages.

That's the way to keep the paper going: alienate your readers.

There's a Train A'Comin'

According to this article (,0,631333.story), L.A. transportation officials have approved a plan for a train from downtown L.A. to Santa Monica along the old Exposition right-of-way -- including the plan for at-grade east-to-west crossings of Overland, Westwood and Sepulveda just south of Pico. You can tell where the Times stands on the plan, too -- if not from the reporting in the article (which gives short shrift to those in the neighborhood who complained at Thursday's hearing about the at-grade crossings), then from this editorial (,0,2918188.story) which castigates Westside homeowners as a bunch of whiners for objecting to the at-grade crossings.

Well, I'm one of those Westside homeowners; and the planned train route is half a block south of my house. Having the train as a neighbor may be unavoidable. It makes more sense for the train to run up near Olympic, where it would be readily accessible from Century City; or up at Wilshire, where it would serve UCLA students, high-rise workers, and those who live along the Wilshire corridor. But I can understand that buying up land there would be more expensive than running the train along an existing right-of-way. (Of course, they're planning a subway over there . . . .)

But I cannot agree that grade separations at Overland, Westwood and Sepulveda would be, in the words of the Times, "unnecessary additional grade separations that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and make the project financially unfeasible." Those three streets are major arterials -- particularly Sepulveda, which runs from the Valley to the South Bay -- and they are incredibly busy during weekdays. Rail officials intend to run trains across those streets, at grade, at a rate of 24 trains per hour during the peak times. (See

And alas, the trains will not lessen the traffic flow on those streets. Those are north-south streets. The trains will run east-west.

Oh, and they want to put in two stations in my neighborhood -- one at Westwood and one at Sepulveda. Less than half a mile apart.

Some more descriptions of the issues can be found at

Of course, this is not the end of it. There will be administrative appeals, and lawsuits. I hope that at some point, someone will see the folly of stopping a busy street multiple times an hour to let a train through, when in fact the trains could run under those streets.

I probably can't avoid having the train as a neighbor. I can only hope that it acts like a good neighbor.